Kent scouts learn ancient art of seafaring

High winds, seasickness and miles upon miles of open water in a 26-foot, homemade boat? Sounds like a “Robinson Crusoe” adventure, but Kent Sea Scouts Crew 407 made it a reality.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Tuesday, July 29, 2008 3:10pm
  • Life
The Kent Sea Scouts Crew 407

The Kent Sea Scouts Crew 407

Kent troop builds craft, sails in race

High winds, seasickness and miles upon miles of open water in a 26-foot, homemade boat?

Sounds like a “Robinson Crusoe” adventure, but Kent Sea Scouts Crew 407 made it a reality.

Seven local youths led by skipper Brennan Phillips and first mate Greg Stragier paddled and sailed their own ship up a 120-nautical-mile route through the waters of the Gulf of Georgia, Malaspina Strait and Desolation Sound in British Columbia earlier this month, competing in an annual, eight-day boat race, called the Shipyard School Raid.

The race was the final step of a year-and-a-half-long crew project, the building of a native Alaskan skin boat called an umiak.

“Pretty early on in the project, we hit upon the idea that this would be a neat thing to participate in,” crew advisor Brennan Phillips said. “This was the culminating event for the project; kind of the big, epic journey.”

The crew, part of a seafaring branch of the Boy Scouts of America, has been building the boat and honing their boating skills since March 2007. The co-ed crew of about 16 youths ages 14-20 and several adults, including advisor Brennan, had no prior boat-building experience when they started.

“We had to learn everything about building a boat,” said crew member Conner Bertsch in a prior interview with the Reporter. “I had no idea how we were ever going to do it.”

But with the help of the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle and the Skin Boat School in Anacortes, they slowly learned the steps of building the 26-foot-long, 8-foot-wide Alaskan boat.

They set up a makeshift boathouse in Phillips’ backyard, lashing the milled Western red and Alaskan yellow cedar wood together with tarred string called seining twine to create the frame, and then hauled the frame to the Center for Wooden Boats to be given a skin of ballistic nylon material.

They spent time on Lake Meridian in Kent after completing the boat, learning to navigate in the sail- and oar-equipped vessel. When the annual Shipyard School Raid came around this year, the crew was ready.

Members Bertsch, Josh Phillips, Bryce Phillips, Blaine Stragier, Logan Sychtysz, Larissa Sychtysz and Jeremy O’Keefe, led by Phillips and Stragier, launched their boat from Gabriola Island in British Columbia June 28. Support crew Mike and Dorothy Bertsch followed in an escort boat.

The voyage got off to a rough start, Phillips said.

“The first day was pretty exciting,” he said. “The wind was up, and we had a hard time making much progress. All the kids were sea sick, and we damaged the boat, put a hole in it.”

He said as they stumbled onto the shore after their first day, nauseous and sunburned, they were wondering what they had gotten themselves into.

“I didn’t know if we’d complete it after that,” Phillips said. “But we made some repairs, and got back on track.”

Every day of the long voyage was better after that, he said; the crew’s rowing became more in sync, and sailing skills were honed. Phillips noted that on several legs of the race – which is more about the journey than the competition – they even came in first out of the eight competing boats. The final day was the most exciting, he said.

“The final day, we had to make this long crossing in high winds, and the kids were all whooping and hollering and asking when we were going to do this again,” Phillips said. “We actually passed all the other boats that last day and came in first.”

He said the trip was a success, and the crew plans on participating again in next year. He thinks the crew members learned a lot through the experience.

“I think they really expanded their thoughts on what they can do,” Phillips said. “It was kind of a daunting thing, but it proved to themselves that they could do it. They also learned a lot about the building and handling of the boat, and there was a real bond that they formed together.”

He said crew member Bryce Phillips, his son, also scored a victory in completing the journey. He was hit by a car traveling at 40 miles per hour while riding his bike home from school in September 2006, sustaining 14 broken bones, including his neck and his femur. Phillips said his ability to participate in the long journey showed a remarkable recovery.

“That’s another big part of it, is him overcoming this whole thing,” he said. “It’s about perseverance.”

To learn more about Kent Sea Scouts Crew 407 and how to join, visit

Contact Daniel Mooney at 253-437-6012 or

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